SELF-SUBJECTIFICATION, PART 2
Martha Nussbaum’s conception of objectification “includes denial of autonomy, subjectivity. Not taking people’s feelings into account, but also treating them as a mere instrument…The internet opens that up in a big way because it is a relatively autonomous world in which someone who portrays a woman in a certain light, can create a whole story about her that is relatively immune to correction…”
Julie JC Peters contrasts object with subject: “In the context of a book, movie, or image, the subject is the being that acts, the main character. It’s essentially you: the one you can relate and align with. An object is the thing acted upon…. In an image, we feel with the subject and look at the object.”
As agents, subjects reflect upon and manipulate the world around them; rather than relying on others to create context, they imbue their own experiences with meaning. Subjects have internal monologues, while objects are limited to stimulus-response. We can identify with subjects, but only project onto objects.
Subjectifying yourself is easy. It entails crafting a narrative then exposing yourself. Deliberately putting a spin on things before giving someone else the opportunity to react. Controlling your image by casting yourself in a certain light, soft or hard, flattering or not. Sort of like the plot of Easy A: Emma Stone’s character spreads false rumors about her sexual exploits, cementing her reputation and those of her alleged sexual partners. Sure the sexual double standard is alive and well, but you can exploit it for your benefit.
NUDITY AND NONSENSE
But, thankfully, no one expected me to give extreme fake moans. I understood that I could be as into it as I felt like being… I liked performance and how I felt sexually embodied and in control of my representation… I chose how to be, what to show, what to do.
–Dylan Ryan, How I Became a Feminist Porn Star
My life goals are to become a parody of myself and to balance the practical with the absurd. Few items of clothing are as costumey and comical as academic attire. The antiquated ritual and symbolic distinction. Religion for the educated masses. Upon receiving an e-mail about renting graduation garb, I could not resist: I don’t care what my teachers say, I’m gonna be a supermodel and everyone is gonna dress like me, wait and see. When I’m a supermodel in a mega-tassel.
I can’t explain it exactly: something about robing up begged for disrobing. Months later, when I picked up the graduation garb, I was pleased to discover that it was a non-descript, ultra purple, amorphous mass of a sheet that unzipped in all the right places. Easssy access. Funsies! Here’s to controlling my image, subjectifying myself: On paper I have an expensive, prestigious, hard-earned degree that is evidence of my smarts and grit. In photographs, I am a fleshy, ready body just like any other. Marketable skills, down to fuck. I designed that story and I’m sticking to it.
My inspired recipe of rebellion required one co-conspirator to capture the joyous occasion. I enlisted Caleb, the doe-eyed, tattooed, Kewpie doll of a boy I sort of dated in grad school. My male prototype: skinny, pretty, a little rough around the edges. Down for hijinks, shenanigans, tomfoolery, and nonsense of non-normative persuasion. If nothing else, I enjoyed getting naked in front of him. That’s, like, important.
It goes without saying that this was an IRONIC photo shoot. Oh purportedly liberal academia, time to thumb my nose at society, gently mock the machine. Accepting Herff Jones Inc. as the outfitter and arbiter of academic officiation is a step above fashioning oneself athletic in an American Apparel unisex unitard. The ridiculous fucking ultra purple Hassid sheet came with instructions on how to look maximally distinguished/refined/proper in academic regalia. I made sure to disregard those instructions entirely, defile them. Naturallly.
The photo shoot was: fun, lighthearted, spontaneous, collaborative.
Silly, sexy. Sex me.
The images are mostly interactive and full of facial expression. Dynamic, borne out of Caleb and my dynamic. In the tongue-in-cheek photo below, my pursed lips, piercing eyes, and pointed elbow catapult me into an iconic space halfway between Rosie the Riveter and a pin-up harlot.
It’s funny, then, that the image I chose for my business cards is faceless, nameless, disengaged. Caleb catching me in a private, transitional moment when I am pulling my underwear back up in conclusion, not performing for an audience. It has an air of voyeurism and authenticity. Like catching someone with a bite of food in her mouth, only sexier. My head floats into the fence, bleeds into the background, and you don’t know what I’m thinking. I reserve the right to be both a disembodied fuckhole and human. As you gaze past me, you arrive at the name of my blog—my personal narrative. Draw your finger over the line from the nape of my neck down the valley of my back, and you end up inside me. Wanna bend me over and spread me open a bit? I thought so.
Recently I saw the movie The Punk Singer about Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, and a few months later I saw her speak! An astute and accessible feminist, she began creating cultural commentary as a disgruntled visual art student at Evergreen State College. In one poignant piece, she juxtaposed an image of a forlorn, topless teen girl in portrait with one of housewives gleefully sewing, aerobicizing, and chatting on the phone. The caption she added was, “Pretend you like it; believe you like it.” Implying that single, sexually exposed females are more liberated by virtue of self-awareness. Awareness that the oppressive roles they serve are independent of their desires. To Kathleen Hanna’s art piece, I would add: “verify you like it,” with my crusty underwear as photographic evidence. As Caleb snapped photos of me, I stripped from my graduation robe to lingerie, changed into a new outfit, repeated, and eventually stripped to full nudity. With each on-camera costume change, I fought the urge to slide fingers inside myself as I dislodged fabric from my sticky slit. Each pair of underpants creamier than the previous.
Sexploitation, ha ha.
I think about how women are devalued for seeking sex. Told that if they are giving it away for free, it must be attention that they really want. Something about selling cheap. And it brings me to this Clarisse Thorne quote about sexual currency:
Women are expected to trade sex to men in exchange for support or romance. Women who don’t get a “good trade” (e.g. women who don’t receive a certain level of financial support or romance “in exchange for” sex) are seen as sluts… women are always expected to be looking for more emotional or financial investment from a guy, whereas men are always expected to be looking for more (or more so-called “extreme”) sex. Women who actively seek sex, or men who actively seek intimacy, are shamed…
–Clarisse Thorn, Towards my personal Sex-Positive Feminist 101
People need to learn to assess diverse sexual motivations outside of the reductive paradigm that assumes all sexual interactions are dictated by the gender binary and sexual equivalencies (i.e., that physical, monetary, and emotional resources are forms of sexual currency that can be exchanged for one another). Until then,
I don’t give a damn ‘bout my bad reputation
Never said I wanted to improve my station
-Joan Jett, Bad Reputation